Michel Bauwens: Particularly after this season’s climate issues, the heat wave in Europe, the fires in California, the earlier devastation of Puerto Rico … it becomes harder and harder to deny the reality of the dangers of climate change. But this is not the end of the story as we can expect negative feedback loops in the future, through which negatives will strengthen each other. Thus, profound cultural and behavioral change will be on the agenda, if we are to survive. This is what Jem Bendell calls the Deep Adaptation.
and how non-linear (and potentially exponential) changes are of central importance to understanding climate change as they suggest that impacts will be far more rapid and severe than predictions based on linear projections, that multiple forcings beyond carbon dioxide will come into play and that the changes no longer correlate with the rate of anthropogenic carbon emissions. He describes how non-linear changes in our environment trigger uncontrollable impacts on human habitat and agriculture, with subsequent complex impacts on social, economic and political systems. He focuses on opportunities such as agricultural transformation and eco-system restoration. While he mentions climate change having negative impacts on ecosystems, changes in seasons, melting permafrost methane release, temperatures extremes, flood and drought, he doesn’t mention fire.
Geoengineering and natural geoengineering are mentioned and contrasted with the momentum of disruptive and uncontrollable climate change, and it’s potential human impact: starvation, settlement destruction, mass migration, disease, war and extinction are all entertained. He reports on how paternalistic climate and social scientists warn against and censor discussion on the likelihood and nature of societal collapse due to climate change, labelling it as irresponsible, in that it might trigger hopelessness among the general lay public. He states this is related to the non-populist anti-politics technocratic attitude that pervades contemporary environmentalism and frames our challenge as one of encouraging people to try harder to be nicer and better rather than coming together in solidarity to either undermine or overthrow a system that demands we participate in environmental and societal degradation. There is a good discussion on the dynamics of denial which references “interpretative denial” i.e., accepting certain climate facts but interpreting them in a way that makes them “safer” to our personal psychology, and “implicative denial” i.e., recognising the troubling implications of climate facts but responding by busying ourselves on activities that do not arise from a full assessment of the situation.
Interestingly, collapse denial is suggested to be more common among sustainability experts than the general public, given the typical allegiance of professionals to the incumbent social and economic structures they benefit from. Another barrier identified is that there is no obvious institutional self-interest in articulating the probability or inevitability of environmental and societal collapse. He highlights how our interests in civility, praise and belonging within a professional community can censor those of us who seek to communicate uncomfortable truths in memorable ways. His review of a range of projects and studies suggests that the idea we “experts” need to be careful about what to tell “them” the “unsupported public” may be a narcissistic delusion in need of immediate remedy. In terms of framing, Bendell has chosen to interpret the available information as indicating inevitable collapse, probable catastrophe and possible extinction. He has found that inviting his students to consider collapse as inevitable, catastrophe as probable and extinction as possible, has not led to apathy or depression, but rather to a shedding of concern for conforming to the status quo, and a mix of creativity about what to focus on and discombobulation.
He then posits a Deep Adaptation Agenda, emphasising that we must look more critically at how people and organisations are framing the situation and the limitations such framings impose. Given that analysts are concluding that a societal collapse is inevitable, he suggests the following question becomes important: What are the valued norms and behaviours human societies will want to maintain, relinquish, restore and rediscover, as they seek to survive? Resilience asks us “how do we keep what we really want to keep?” Relinquishment asks us “what do we need to let go of in order to not make matters worse?” Restoration asks us “what can we bring back to help us with the coming difficulties and tragedies?” Additionally, I add rediscovery might ask us what can we dig up from archaic times of yore that may have utility in post-collapse or catastrophic scenarios? He claims the era of “sustainable development” as unifying concept and goal is now ending and Deep Adaptation is an explicitly post-sustainability framing. He states the importance of recognising our complicity and posits that the West’s response to environmental issues has been restricted by the dominance of neoliberal economics since the 1970s. This led us to hyper-individualist, market fundamentalist, incremental and atomistic approaches.
By hyper-individualist, he means a focus on individual action as consumers, switching light bulbs or buying sustainable furniture, rather than promoting political action as engaged citizens.By market fundamentalist, he means a focus on market mechanisms like the complex, costly and largely useless carbon cap and trade systems, rather than exploring what more government intervention could achieve. By incremental, he means a focus on celebrating small steps forward such as a company publishing a sustainability report, rather than strategies designed for the speed and scale of change suggested by the science. By atomistic, he means a focus on seeing climate action as a separate issue from the governance of markets, finance and banking, rather than exploring what kind of economic system could permit or enable sustainability.
In terms of academic research and teaching he suggests asking “How might research findings inform efforts for a more massive and urgent pursuit of resilience, relinquishment, restoration (and rediscovery) in the face of social collapse? and “How can we best use MOOCs to widely disseminate the most useful economic re-localisation and community development strategies? He emphasises the need for citizens to access information and networks on how to shift their livelihoods and lifestyles. He adds Local Governments will need similar help on how to develop the capabilities today that will help their local communities to collaborate, not fracture, during a collapse. At the international level, there is the need to work on how to responsibly address the wider fallout from collapsing societies, including the ongoing challenges of refugee support and the securing of dangerous industrial and nuclear sites at the moment of a societal collapse. He states he has explored the emotional and psychological implications of this new awareness of a societal collapse being likely in our own lifetimes in a reflective essay on the spiritual implications of climate despair.
His final recommendations are narrow amounting to suggestions for academic researchers, teachers and students, although he does say he is developing a separate work for managers, policy makers and lay persons. He encourages communities to engage deeply with the three (or four) guiding questions offered up earlier. He concludes by reiterating the redundancy of the reformist approach to sustainable development and related fields of corporate sustainability that has underpinned the approach of many professionals, opting instead for a new approach which explores how to reduce harm and not make matters worse, informed by his Deep Adaptation Agenda, which is not as yet well explicated, but certainly seems open for more reflection and collaborative contributions.
Deep Adaptation: A Map for Navigating Climate Tragedy shared by P2P Foundation on Scribd